Should you go into business with your best friend? Many people would say no but for product designer Jesse Leeworthy and accountant Jonathan Byrt it was perhaps their shared passion for water conservation and stylish but functional design that helped not hindered their working relationship. And maybe living in different countries helped too!
The Australian-born creators and founders of the recently launched reusable, BPA-free slimline memobottle, whose design was inspired by a piece of paper, talk to me about where and how it all began …
Please tell us a bit about about yourselves and your backgrounds. Jesse and I (Jonathan) grew up just south of Melbourne in Red Hill on the Mornington Peninsula. We spent a lot of our early days surfing and hiking and when we weren’t in the outdoors we were always actively working on ideas and looking for small business opportunities. This probably came partly from our parents’ influence, who have always run small innovative businesses. To be honest we never thought that working together was even a possibility let alone running a business together.
We moved in different directions in terms of careers, I studied commerce and become a chartered accountant while Jesse headed into the more creative space of engineering product design. Although we specialise in these fields we have always made an effort to absorb as much information from alternative disciplines. It wasn’t until we were living on opposite sides of the world that we decided to combine our skills and make memobottle a reality.
How did memobottle come about?
Being two primary school friends from a coastal town in Australia, we were constantly spending time at the beach and outdoors. We noticed an increase in the number of plastic water bottles that would wash ashore at our local beach, and decided to look into it a little bit further. We had no idea how large this problem was initially and were completely shocked at how, in a country that provides clean and accessible drinking water, people could buy single-use bottled water and pay over 1400 times more than what it costs from the tap.
We had also experienced the frustrations of trying to fit round water bottles into our bags. All the bottles out there are designed around ease of manufacture. Because of this, car holders, bike holders and accessories followed suit. We decided to flip the equation and create a product that was optimised for transportation but still held the functionality of traditional water bottles. Jesse went to work on the design that soon became the memobottle.
Tell us about how you came to the final design?
We realised a long time ago that people are resistant to change. Unfortunately, when presented with two options a lot of people still go with the more convenient or cheaper option, regardless of the environmental or social implications. To really break people’s habits around single-use drink bottles we knew we had to offer something that was truly convenient, beautiful and sustainable in design. The memobottle™ had to make people think, and encourage people to ask questions.
The idea for a premium, re-usable, flat water bottle resembling the shape of a piece of paper was born. The idea of memobottle was created on Jesse’s sketch pad over four years ago. We knew that the only way we could make a real, positive change was to provide society with a more convenient option. Jesse went to work on some designs and produced some prototypes for a slim, reusable water bottle to test its functionality. After months of testing and refinement, the memobottle was born.
What is or has been the hardest or most challenging part in getting a new product off the ground? There have been many challenges over the past 18 months, some good and some bad, but all have helped to form the business that we run today. We understand that problems arise on a daily basis and that there is no point getting down about it. There is always a solution to a problem. During the Kickstarter campaign we experienced several production delays, logistics hurdles, refinements and in hindsight we could have communicated to our backers on Kickstarter in more detail than we did. Every step of this journey has been a wonderful learning curve.
The main challenge has been workload. Initially we were both working full-time jobs and while ensuring that at least one of us was completely on top of all aspects of the business. Fortunately being located in two different time zones we are able to have eyes on all developments 24-hours a day.
Tell us about the importance of upcycling and sustainability for you – in your work and personal life?
We grew up in a community where the importance of recycling and conserving our environment were drilled into us – both from our parents and through our schooling. Our primary school was extremely forward thinking in that regard. Because of this, we have always recycled, upcycled and reused wherever possible. We have over 7 billion people in this world, and if we as humans continue to produce waste the way we have then the future looks pretty bleak. It’s hugely important to us.
Do you have any more projects in the pipeline?
We have some exciting ideas that we are currently implementing for memobottle. The underlying aim of memobottle is to assist in reducing the number of single-use bottles going into landfill and our environment. Personally we are committed to introducing products that provide environmental benefit whilst improving life convenience and encouraging people to think differently about the way they approach the world.
The last few months have been exciting as we expand our retail partners around the world. Coupling with a number of Moderns Art Museums has been an honour in itself.
Our mission has always been to assist in inspiring society to move back towards a reusable society. We aim to increase our social efforts and continue to create a positive difference for the environment. Overall, we would love to think that in five years’ time there has been a significant reduction in single-use water bottle consumption and a social shift towards a more reusable society.
It’s not very cool, but we really like…
Jesse loves cups of tea and likes to live with close to no possessions. He would literally hike to a new location each day if he could. I wake up at stupidly early hours to exercise and listen to audiobooks whenever I’m commuting between places. We are very different but both have our quirks.
Have you ever had a ‘who’d have thought’ moment? Our Kickstarter campaign produced a huge “who’d have thought” moment for us. We had exposed the memobottle concept and prototypes to friends and family but we had no true idea of its potential until the Kickstarter campaign validated it. We were exposed, the idea was out in the world and the people were going to decide. We surpassed our funding goal of $15K within 36 hours. That was definitely a “wow, who’d have thought” moment for us.
Thanks guys for an insight into memobottle’s beginnings and its future!